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How Smugglers Crammed Cockatoos Into Plastic Bottles

Nwakaego Ohaegbulam with agency reports writes on the dangers of trafficking exotic animals across borders

While the world pays more attention to drug and human trafficking, less attention is being paid to other issues which could also affect the economy and pose a threat to the very existence of other living organisms. With the execution of the ‘t Bali Nine’ over and done with, the focus now should be on how to tighten security at the airports to prevent the smuggling of rare animals, birds and other natural resources out of the country illegally.

Wildlife smuggling involves the illegal gathering, transportation and distribution of animals and their derivatives. This Wikipedia says can be done either internationally of locally. Because of the illegal nature of the business, it is difficult determining the amount of money involved though experts place the figure at an estimated $7.8billion to $10billion per annum.

When people give in to the pressure to purchase exotic animals from stores or the internet for keeps as pets, it often leads to death for these animals because when they are captured they easily suffer from malnutrition, loneliness and confinement. The unfortunate thing is that most of them die along the way. The journey for many of these animals begins in places like Australia, Africa, and the jungles of Brazil.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, when trappers take animals away from their natural habitats, the animals often change hands several times through intermediaries and exporters, and they endure grueling transport conditions. Parrots might have their beaks and feet taped and be stuffed into plastic tubes that can easily be hidden in luggage, and stolen bird and reptile eggs are concealed in special vests so that couriers can bypass X-ray machines at airports. Baby turtles have been taped so that they are trapped inside their shells and shoved by the dozen into tube socks, and infant pythons have been shipped in CD cases.

In one case, a man who was arrested at the Los Angeles airport had Asian leopard cats in a backpack, birds of paradise in an additional luggage, and pygmy monkeys in his underwear. Their chances of survival? A German customs agent said “We have a mortality of about 80 or 90 percent.”

Animals who do survive long enough to be sold are often subject to inadequate care. Because caretakers are often unprepared or unable to provide for the needs of animals who are so far removed from their natural habitats, many exotic animals will likely die or be abandoned by their caretakers.

What is more worrisome is the fact that these exotic animals face extinction if the illegal immigration continues unfettered. A case in hand is the recent arrest made by Indonesian Police of smugglers who stuffed 24 critically endangered cockatoos in water bottles for illegal trade.

According to agency reports, the smugglers crammed the Yellow- crested cockatoos into empty bottles so they could get through customs at Port of Tanjung Perak in Surabaya, Indonesia.

But Indonesian Police discovered the birds, which can be sold for as much as £650 each, and cut them free so they could receive medical attention.

The Yellow-crested cockatoo was listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 2007.

The population is at a critical low due to deforestation and poaching and recent studies suggest there may be less than 7,000 individuals remaining.

More than 10,000 parrots, including Lories and Cockatoos, are caught from the wild in North Halmahera, Indonesia, each year to supply the domestic and the international illegal wildlife trade.

Around 40 per cent of birds die during the illegal smuggling process.

So for every 1,000 parrots caught from the wild, 400 birds died in vain, during the poaching, transportation and trade, due to poor conditions and cruel handling.

Most parrots are prohibited from international commercial trade unless they are captive bred or permitted by the exporting country.

Yellow-crested cockatoos also breed very slowly and lay eggs only once a year. They can produce only two eggs at a time.

Illegal trapping continues in many areas including Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park, Buton and Kadatua Islands, but has reportedly been reduced significantly on Sumba.

Large-scale logging and conversion of forest to agriculture across its range has exacerbated the decline, and the use of pesticides is a further potential threat.

The white birds can range in size from 12 inch to about 27inch in length and present a beautiful yellow crest.

They are found in wooded and cultivated areas of East Timor and Indonesia’s islands of Sulawesi and the Lesser Sundas.

Had the Indonesian Police not been up and about in their surveillance duties, who knows what may have become of these birds. The multibillion-dollar business of buying and selling of exotic animals is one of the largest sources of criminal earnings behind only arms smuggling and drug trafficking.

There is need therefore for government at all levels to enact laws that would prohibit the capturing and sale of these rare species and also to its full implementation to save the lives of these creatures.

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